A couple of weeks ago I found myself staring off a bluff straight down into my favorite phobia.
Dread, my red-tailed hawk came into my home late last January with beat up feathers, wild as the wind, and a nasty temperament. He saw my value pretty quickly though, and we were hunting together within a month. We have an agreement. I provided better opportunities to hunt, water when he was thirsty, a warm safe place to sleep, food when hunts went badly, and therefore he would let me tag along while I set him loose to do hawk things.
Logically, I know he has the better deal. However, I know that I get fresh air, exercise, mental challenges, and that I get to see and experience things that most people don’t even consider. Philosophically, I have a much better deal. Dread makes me a better person. And so when we are in the field, I am completely in, no matter what. After all, I might catch a quick glimpse of something akin to magic.
Which leads to why I ended up in a precarious place with no good options on how to get down.
Dread was high up on a bluff, watching below as I tried to scare up a cottontail and potentially, his meal for the next several days. Our communication is limited to hand signals, a few agreed upon words, and a lot of trust, but we understand each other as best as two rather incongruous minds can manage. However, I know I’m not the boss of him. So when he suddenly disappeared, I realized that he had stumbled upon an agreed upon exception.
Anything involving food is an agreed up on exception.
I got out my receiver and verified via the transmitter on his tail that his was still not far from where I’d last seen him, but most likely out of sight above the rise and surely with food.
Now I had a job.
He’s in my care and therefore I needed to get to wherever he was as quickly as possible. I am his first line of defense against another more aggressive red-tailed hawk, a coyote, or anything else that might damage him and take his meal.
I didn’t even look at how steep the climb was, I just used my hands, dug in my toes and made my way up. I found him with the biggest wood rat I had ever seen. Despite my haste it was mostly eaten, but it as also fairly won. So I hopped him onto the glove with it, and let him finish, knowing our outing was over. He was too sated and pleased to continue with any more hunting.
It wasn’t the ending I wanted. I don’t enjoy killing things, but larger game is a bigger bounty and hawks need food. It would have been more ideal to have a bigger reward. It would have been more exciting to have seen the hunt. All the same, the hawk didn’t care. He was happy. I was happy for him. This was a good morning. Until looked down.
Climbing up is a lot less daunting than the realization that you somehow have to safely descend with a hawk hooded and balanced on your glove.
Let me expound on this a bit. Steep inclines take my breath away. Maybe it’s that I fell down a flight of concrete stairs when I was three years old. (No, really, I still remember it.) Or maybe it’s that I’ve watched Wesley and Princess Buttercup roll and bump down that endless hill one too many times. Whatever it is, climbing down. No. Just no.
I shuddered and squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I wasn’t going to climb down that bluff.
Then I opened my eyes and looked at the view.
This wasn’t where I imagined my morning would take me. It wasn’t the hunt I was hoping for, but down below me there was a beautiful stretch of native California, swirled into motion by flocks of mourning doves and set against a winter blue sky. I stood above a Sunday morning world that was mostly still sleeping and probably not even dreaming of things this beautiful.
You got up here, didn’t you? Surely you can get down.
Standing with this gorgeous hawk sitting comfortably if not blissfully, on my glove, I remembered his first begrudging step to my glove, his first free flight. I recalled his first successful hunt. I remembered our many failed outings and our gradual friendship. I thought about the fear and hope and magic that is involved in befriending a wild hawk that would catch its own meal and happily return to your glove.
I thought about the journey up this hill. That journey was surely worth every slow and precarious step I was going to have to make to get us safely back down.
It was definitely worth it. It was worth the slow embarrassing slide on my butt and the thorns in my palm. It was worth it just like the autumn relationship that broke my heart. The finished novel on my desk that didn’t wrap up into the beautiful poetic package I wanted it to. It was worth it — just like life.
So when you accidentally climb up that precarious place representing your most revered fears, don’t forget to pause and remember how freaking awesome the climb was that got you there. You’ll get back down just fine.